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Crossbows: Coming to a Treestand Near You?

By Carole Kandoth
Principal Biologist
September 15, 2008

The following first appeared in the August 2008 Hunting Issue of the Fish and Wildlife DIGEST, page 6.

Did you know that only two states in the country do not allow the use of a crossbow for hunting? Did you know that only four states place an age restriction on crossbow use? Did you know that New Jersey is one of 17 states that allow physically challenged hunters to use crossbows? Did you know that a change is in the works?

Crossbow hunter in treestandThe crossbow is a popular hunting tool throughout the United States. Since 2002, eight states have added crossbow hunting. New Jersey hunters have shown an increased interest in hunting with crossbows based on requests to Fish and Wildlife to add them as a legal sporting arm. New Jersey now has a proposal to expand the opportunity to use crossbows for deer hunting to all hunters beginning in the 2009-2010 deer seasons. Crossbows are NOT legal for the 2008-09 deer seasons except for hunters issued a physically-challenged hunting permit.

The Fish and Game Council, which sets Garden State hunting regulations via the Game Code, acknowledges this growing interest in crossbows, as well as an objection to crossbows among some hunters. Fish and Wildlife’s role is to provide the Fish and Game Council with scientific data upon which to make regulatory decisions.

To that end, Fish and Wildlife conducted an opinion survey in 2007 of resident hunting license holders about their preference regarding crossbow hunting. The report to the Council also compared the capabilities of crossbows and compound bows, plus reviewed the experience of other states that hunt with this equipment. In addition, Fish and Wildlife biologists examined the current research and literature to identify crossbow misconceptions.

For the survey, Fish and Wildlife biologists contacted a random selection of resident sportsmen and sportswomen representing all New Jersey hunters. Each license-holder type – i.e., all-around, archery, firearm, etc. – was sampled in the same proportion as they exist in the hunter population. This ensured all user groups were represented fairly. The survey demonstrated support for the expanded use of crossbows across all user groups. To view the survey results, go to (pdf, 112kb).

Crossbows resemble a firearm in that their short limbs are transversely mounted on a rifle stock and they have a trigger with a safety. The shooting technique is similar to shooting a rifle and is simple to learn. After cocking, crossbows hold the bowstring in the cocked position without the shooter’s continued effort and are released mechanically with a trigger. With practice, crossbows are accurate and easily mastered.

However, the range and velocity of a crossbow is comparable to those of a compound bow. And just as with a compound, long or recurve bow, crossbow hunters must still develop shooting skills to be successful: correct cocking technique, proper stance, breath control, careful aim, smooth trigger pull and follow-through along with the ability to judge distance.

Data collected from the 48 states that currently have some type of crossbow hunting (including New Jersey) indicate that crossbows are as safe as other types of bows; their use does not increase either hunting accidents or wounding of game. The success rate of crossbow hunters is equal to – or only slightly better than – hunters with compound bows. No state with legalized crossbow use during the archery seasons has needed to reduce the bag limit nor shorten the archery seasons as a result of crossbow hunting.

The Council’s proposal to broaden crossbow use is based on the positive attributes of crossbow hunting. These benefits include improved hunter recruitment and retention, better deer management in areas of suburban/rural interface and increased agency revenue. Crossbows may encourage a greater participation by youths, women and others who have difficulty drawing a regular bow to engage in the sport and start (or maintain) a family hunting tradition.

Crossbows will also enable aging hunters with various physical limitations not defined as a handicap, to continue with or to come back to the sport they love. Crossbows can be a practical alternative in populated areas where firearms discharge has been restricted by local ordinance. This will assist Fish and Wildlife to achieve deer management objectives where hunter access has been limited. And while no additional fees will be charged to hunt with a crossbow, additional revenue is anticipated through an increase in archery license and Permit Bow Season permit sales.

After reviewing the survey results and the documentation provided by Fish and Wildlife biologists, the Fish and Game Council voted to amend the 2009-10 Game Code to broaden the definition of a bow to include crossbows, and allow their use for deer hunting in any open bow season for legal hunters of all ages. If adopted, this proposed amendment will not take effect until the 2009-10 hunting season.

Game Code changes to include crossbow hunting, as well as the other proposed changes to hunting and trapping regulations (see Proposed Changes to Hunting in New Jersey) are subject to a public comment period whereby the citizens of New Jersey can express their opinion. Check periodically on Fish and Wildlife’s Web site ( for details on the public comment period, public meeting dates and to view the proposed changes to the Game Code. And remember, crossbows are NOT legal during the 2008-09 deer seasons.

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Last Updated: September 15, 2008